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TOBA TEK SINGH/LAHORE: Three minor girls died allegedly hours after they were administered anti-measles vaccine at a rural health centre at Chak 262-GB, Marthan Wala, in Rajana area.

According to locals, a health department team on Wednesday vaccinated around a dozen children at the village’s rural health centre (RHC) against different diseases.

They said six of the children who were vaccinated against measles started vomiting and had fever after vaccination.

Two of them -- nine-month-old Hafsa Nasir and 14-month-old Ayeena Nawaz died in the night, they added.

The remaining four were shifted to Kamalia Tehsil Headquarters Hospital from where they were referred to the district headquarters hospital, where 10- month-old Umme Aiman expired.

According to DHQ hospital sources, two of the children had been discharged, while 15-month-old Maryam Bibi was still under treatment.

Following the deaths, scores of locals staged a protest demonstration and besieged the RHC. They alleged that the girls died because the vaccine administered to them was expired.

A health department team visited the village to verify the incident. According to local officials, the department has stopped the vaccination drive with immediate effect.

Meanwhile, district health authority CEO Dr Muhammad Nawaz Ranjha has formed a three-member committee consisting of District Officer (health) Dr Muhammad Khalid Mirza, Deputy District Officer Dr Masood Ahmad Virk and district vaccination programme superintendent Muhammad Arshad to probe the incident.

Committee head Dr Mirza while talking to reporters denied that expired vaccine caused the deaths, adding, however, that the exact cause would be known after completion of the inquiry.

He claimed that no such incident had occurred in the district in the past.

Punjab Expanded Programme on Immunization (EPI) Director Dr Munir Ahmad told Dawn that according to initial inquiries the health department employee at the RHC didn’t administer vaccine to the children “within the prescribed time”.

He said apparently either the vaccine administered was not properly stored or the cold chain protocols were not followed resulting in its contamination.

He said it was being suspected that the bacteria had grown in the ill-managed vaccine that was administered to the children instead of being discarded.

He said the parents took the sick children to a quack in the area instead of hospital which further aggravated their condition.

Dr Ahmad said when they were brought to hospital it was too late.

To a question, the EPI director said it was not a special drive but a routine exercise aimed at vaccinating the children in the 9-15 month age bracket.

He denied the reports that the health department had suspended the anti-measles vaccination in Punjab.

“The vaccine being administered to the children all over the province had been procured from the WHO pre-qualified international firms”, the EPI director said.

He added that no such incident had been reported in any other part of the province which showed there was nothing wrong with the vaccine.

Published in Dawn, October 13th, 2017